House of Commons
Thursday 27 April 2017
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Exiting the European Union
The Secretary of State was asked—
I welcome the fact that tourism is at its highest levels ever, with foreign visitors contributing £22.4 billion to our economy and the industry as a whole supporting some 1.6 million jobs. The start of this year was the strongest on record, and VisitBritain research shows that since the referendum more Europeans say they are more likely, rather than less likely, to visit the UK.
Southend, of course, is a wonderful tourist destination, with the longest pleasure pier in the world. London Southend airport flies to 26 international destinations. The airport does not do Brussels, however, but it does do Europe. Will the Minister, on his re-election, agree to come to Southend to discuss how a new, emboldened Britain can do the European Union and the country a good job globally with trade with all nation states?
My hon. Friend raises an important point both about regional aviation and the beautiful part of the world he represents. That part of the world is known for its common sense, which I am sure will be reflected on 8 June. We have been very clear that we are working to ensure the best possible liberal access to European aviation markets and are seeking to replicate third-country arrangements with the likes of the US and Canada. We are committed to working with the sector to get the best deal for the UK, and I will be delighted to meet him to discuss how we can boost tourism in Southend.
Tourism employs 12,000 people in Norwich, where the value of the sector has grown 87% over the last 10 years—my fine city is a top 10 destination. Tourism is a quarter of the city’s employment. Will my hon. Friend reassure me and Norwich employers, first, that the position of valued members of staff who may be citizens of other European countries will be a personal priority and, secondly, that in seeking a strong future, especially for our young people, the Government will address the skills that British workers could develop to offer Norwich’s growing tourism industry?
My hon. Friend is right to champion tourism in Norwich. As the Prime Minister has said, it is right that we ensure that tourism and hospitality businesses can access the skills they need from the EU and that we ensure that young people in the UK have the right skills to work in this sector. I know she will continue to support tourism through her Norwich jobs initiative and as vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on youth employment, on which I enjoyed working with her.
Tourism requires airports to be open to people, and the Association of British Travel Agents tells us that getting an early deal is of the utmost priority. The chief executive of Stansted airport recently told MPs from our region that no deal means no flights. What assessment has been made of the cost to the British tourism industry of no deal?
The hon. Gentleman should be more optimistic. We have the largest aviation network in Europe and the third largest in the world, handling more than 250 million passengers and 2.3 million tonnes of cargo last year. We are working closely with the industry and are confident that securing a deal on aviation will be in the interests of both the UK and the EU.
Many businesses in rural areas such as Angus have diversified in recent years into short-term holiday lets, many of which are taken by citizens of the European Union who come across at short notice. There are serious concerns that, when we leave the EU, there could be a downturn. Will the Minister give us an assurance that, in any deal with the EU, there will remain the freedom for people to come for short-term holidays and that there will be no visa requirements requiring them to get documents before coming to the UK?
I recognise the importance of that issue. I discussed some of those issues directly with the Scottish hospitality sector during my last visit to Scotland. Of course we want to ensure that visitors from Europe can continue to come to the UK and spend their money here, and we want to ensure that we have the best access for tourists in both directions. That will be a subject for the negotiations to come.
Southampton airport in my Eastleigh constituency provides regular flights to Amsterdam and therefore more than 55 African nations, driving, among other things, bilateral trade. Will the Minister outline what his Department is doing to promote similar initiatives to bring benefits to the UK economy ready for leaving the EU?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to champion the aviation routes from her constituency, and of course the UK, as a global nation, will continue to want to trade with both Europe and the wider world. Having strong aviation links and liberal access for aviation will be an important part of that.
Tourism in Northern Ireland currently generates £764 million of revenue and attracts 4.5 million visitors. The aim is to double that by 2020 using major events such as the world police and fire games, the UK city of culture and the Giro d’Italia. To achieve that goal, will the Minister outline his strategy for incorporating the UK-wide tourism industry? What support is being offered in the interim?
We have been working closely with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and our colleagues in the territorial Departments to ensure that we have the best approach to selling the UK brand around the world. I recognise that Northern Ireland has a fantastic tourism offer, and I was delighted to meet representatives of the Northern Irish hospitality industry during my visit last autumn.
As you know, Mr Speaker, some of the finest parts of the Peak District national park are in Staffordshire, alongside Shugborough, Doxey marshes, Cannock Chase and many other beautiful places. One of the skills that our young people need so that we can benefit from the tourism industry lies in the teaching of languages. What is my hon. Friend doing, together with the Department for Education, to ensure that that is a priority?
My hon. Friend, who is a great champion for his local area, is right to raise this issue, and we have discussed with the tourism and hospitality industry the importance of attracting people with language skills. One aspect we are looking at is how, through negotiations, we might be able to continue engagement with the Erasmus programme in the future, but there are many other ways in which we need to boost our skills domestically, and boosting languages will be very important to a global Britain.
Tourism is the main catalyst for economic development in South Down, which will have a land border with the EU. How will that burgeoning cross-border tourism trade be nurtured and financially protected in the face of the challenges from Brexit and given that the Republic of Ireland’s VAT rate on tourism is 9% whereas in my constituency it is 20%?
One of our highest priorities in these negotiations and in our whole strategy for the UK’s exit from the EU is to secure the soft border that exists, to make sure that there is no return to the hard borders of the past and that the economic progress we see as a result of north-south tourism within the island of Ireland continues, and to ensure that those bodies can be in place. I assure the hon. Lady that this is an issue on which we will continue to engage, and we will continue to promote the excellent tourism offer in Northern Ireland.
The Minister is obviously aware that a record 37.6 million overseas visitors came to the UK in the past year. Is he aware that 70% of those came from the EU? Does he agree that those figures show that although the UK may be leaving the EU, we are very much welcoming and open to visitors from the EU and the rest of the world?
I wholly agree with what my hon. Friend and neighbour says. He is a great champion for the tourism industry, and may I thank him once again for the work he has done to make sure that our Department gets to hear directly from the tourism and hospitality industry across the UK?
The Northern Ireland Executive, including Sinn Féin Ministers, have participated in the Joint Ministerial Committee processes, but to discuss our preparations for exit and ensure that we can deliver an approach that works for the whole and each part of the UK we want to see the political situation in Northern Ireland resolved and Assembly government continuing. That is what the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is working hard to achieve.
I thank the Minister for that answer and for his interest in Northern Ireland; he has come over to visit us—including my constituency, which has a long and significant land border with the Republic of Ireland—on a number of occasions. How can he and the Department ensure that there is further good co-operation as Brexit negotiations continue, particularly in the absence of a Northern Ireland Executive?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Prime Minister are fully committed to ensuring that as we establish our negotiating position, the unique interests of Northern Ireland are protected and advanced. I touched earlier on the issue of the common travel area. They have a clear understanding of the range of views from across Northern Ireland, and we will continue to champion the interests of Northern Ireland in the coming months. We remain committed to continuing to work with all parties and a new Executive in the months ahead, as part of our effort to ensure that we deliver a good deal for the whole of the UK, including Northern Ireland.
May I, too, thank the Minister for all his hard work on behalf of Northern Ireland and Scotland? In recent weeks many discussions have taken place in Northern Ireland about electoral pacts and the bid to block Brexit, as if the decision were reversible. Does he agree that the efforts of all parties would be much better if they were put together in seeking to achieve the best possible outcome for Brexit and for Northern Ireland?
Absolutely. One great strength of our electoral system is that it allows constituencies and their voters to choose the best candidate to represent them, and not stitch-ups between politicians and parties. Like the hon. Gentleman, I campaigned on the remain side during the referendum but am now working as hard as I can to make the decision of the UK a success for the whole of the United Kingdom. I think voters should reflect on whether their representatives are working constructively to get the best outcome for their constituencies and for the United Kingdom, rather than on deals behind closed doors.
Absolutely. My hon. Friend is right to raise that point. We must work continuously to ensure that we protect the peace, the agreements that underpin it and the close and unique relationship between the UK and the Republic of Ireland, which is in a better state than it has been in decades.
Financial Services Industry
We want to ensure that UK companies have the maximum freedom to trade with and operate in European markets, and to let European businesses do the same in the UK. Financial services is one area for which a bold and ambitious trade agreement will be sought, and we will continue to talk to the industry as we prepare for negotiations. The Government have made it clear that we believe implementation periods will be important to minimise disruption, and the industry has welcomed that. The great repeal Bill will prepare the ground for the UK’s exit so that on the day we leave there is as little disruption and as much certainty and continuity as possible. A strong, stable Conservative Government will be best placed to deliver that.
I am grateful for the confirmation that the Government intend to include financial services in the free trade agreement. Will the Minister confirm that we will negotiate to ensure maximum access for licensed firms on the basis of mutual recognition and an equivalence regime?
My hon. Friend absolutely right. As a priority, we are pursuing a bold and ambitious trade agreement with the European Union. That agreement should be of greater scope and ambition than any seen before it, so that it covers sectors that are crucial to our linked economies, such as financial services. We know that our European neighbours have a stake in this, too, because they do not want European firms to lose access to the City of London’s financial services. Financial stability is important, not only for the UK but for the whole of Europe, which is one reason why we want to reach a deal with the EU on financial services. We will seek to establish strong co-operative oversight arrangements with the EU and will continue to support and implement international standards to safely serve the UK, European and global economy.
Will the Minister stop reading his brief and speak from the heart? I have two sets of workers in Huddersfield. Many people work in financial services for Lloyds, and their jobs are in peril. I also have a large number of people who work in the national health service, and the Government are doing nothing to stop the cruel closure of the Huddersfield infirmary. Will the Minister do something about my financial sector workers and my health workers, with the EU catastrophe arriving soon?
I will follow your guidance, Mr Speaker.
I am delighted that the Government are standing up for every sector of our economy, including the financial services sector. The hon. Gentleman neatly points out that the financial services sector matters not only in the City of London but throughout the country, in constituencies such as his. We will fight for those jobs; unfortunately, every Labour Government in history has destroyed jobs.
I welcome the hon. Lady’s question and her focus on financial stability, because, as I said in my answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), we absolutely recognise the importance of financial stability for the whole of Europe, including the UK, and of reaching a deal with our European counterparts. When I met the financial services industry in Scotland to talk about these matters, it was clear on the importance of financial stability, and it was very clear on the vast importance of the United Kingdom market for Scottish financial services.
We recognise the importance of regulatory oversight and mutual regulatory understanding as we move towards a comprehensive trade agreement with the European Union. One thing I have learned while doing this job is the huge respect in which UK regulators are held around the whole of Europe. I think we have some of the best financial regulators in the world.
The future of European agencies is of course a subject for the negotiations to come, but I have no doubt that the UK will continue to be a global centre both for financial services and for leading the conversation about the regulation of financial services in the years to come.
Financial services are important to the economy in my constituency, and I welcome all my hon. Friend’s comments. Does he agree that it is in Europe’s interests that it should have a good deal here, as it will need access to the City of London? It is not the UK that has a banking crisis at the moment.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right for drawing attention both to the importance of financial services across the whole of the UK and to the fact that this is about the mutual interests of the UK and the EU. We want a deal that works for both, and access to the global leading financial markets in London will be as important for the other side in these negotiations as it is for us.
Last month, the Secretary of State confirmed to the Brexit Select Committee that exiting the European Union on World Trade Organisation terms would mean an end to passporting rights. Does the Minister agree that that would be catastrophic for our financial services sector and all those who work in it? If so, does he agree that no deal is not a viable option for the financial services sector?
As a priority, we are pursuing the most ambitious trade agreement that has ever been achieved with the European Union. Its scope and ambition should be greater than that of any agreement before it. The financial services market access—access for European firms to the UK and access for UK firms to Europe—is hugely important. That is what we are focused on achieving. Let me say to the hon. Gentleman that the position of his party that any deal is better than no deal is an absurdity when it comes to defending the national interests of this country. We need to get the right deal and to be able to say to the other side that if they do not offer us the right deal the UK will manage and take the right steps to protect itself. Of course our focus should be on getting the best deal.
The latest draft EU negotiating guidelines discussed on Monday suggest that financial services will be separated from any agreement on our future trade deal. If the Government cannot secure the safety and certainty of the financial services sector as part of any future agreement, what is their back-up plan?
I say gently to the hon. Gentleman that we do not write the guidelines, but we recognise that financial services will be part of a comprehensive deal. We have talked about a comprehensive free trade agreement, and it certainly has not been ruled out. What the EU has said is that it does not want to do separate sectoral deals—well, actually, nor do we. We want the most comprehensive trade agreement available and we think that that should include services, including financial services.
Employment and Workers' Rights
I shall start by saying that I am going to disappoint the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) as I will stick to my brief.
The White Paper published on 30 March sets out that the employment and workers’ rights that are enjoyed under EU law will continue to be available in UK law after we have left the European Union as the great repeal Bill will convert EU law into domestic law. This will give certainty and continuity to employees and employers alike, creating stability in which the United Kingdom can grow and thrive.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer. Since the Health and Morals of Apprentices Act, it is the Conservatives who first protected workers’ rights and put those protections on to the statute book. Will he confirm that, post-Brexit, we will continue to do so not only to protect them, but to enhance them, thereby proving that we are the real workers’ party?
I thought so. It was the very first piece of employment legislation in this House, brought in by a Conservative Government long before the Labour party existed. I suspect that we will still be bringing in such legislation long after the Labour party has ceased to exist. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we will continue to protect workers’ rights. Indeed, the Prime Minister has made it plain not just that we will protect rights, which was the line I started promulgating last summer when I took this job, but that we will expand them. She has appointed the Taylor commission, under Matthew Taylor, with the explicit aim of ensuring that these rights are appropriate to the modern age and will protect people in the modern age.
All the evidence shows that public holidays improve the productivity and wellbeing of workers, including those in the NHS still awaiting their £350 million a week as promised by the leave campaign. Does the Secretary of State agree with having an additional four days, as the Labour party proposes? Although that would still be short of the number in Finland and Spain, which have 14 and 15 days respectively, it would bring us in line with the European average of 12. At the moment we only have eight. That is an example of how, when we leave—
The short answer is no. The more elaborate answer is that employment rights in this country are better than the European Union minimum across the board. That is true of the average number of mandatory annual holidays and maternity rights, to give just two examples. I am afraid that we do not have an awful lot to learn from the European Union in that respect.
After these questions, we go into a general election that, as the EU has already said, will make very little difference to its negotiations. It has a lot more to do with exploiting a civil war on the Labour Benches and preventing yet another civil war on the Tory Benches. In terms of workers’ rights, what about those who are currently in work? This week, Diageo announced that there could be 100 job losses in Scotland, with 70 in Leven. The union has described the company as
“hedging their bets over Brexit”
and the Government have been asleep at the wheel. Now, regarding the workers—
The reason that the SNP is outpolling the Tories so highly is that we are united in getting behind workers’ rights and getting a decent deal in Europe. The Secretary of State has put aside these negotiations for narrow political benefit, which he will not have in Scotland. What is he going to do about these threats to jobs?
Great Repeal Bill: Future Trade Terms
My Department is responsible for overseeing negotiations to leave the EU, and establishing the future relationship between a global Britain and the EU. We are, of course, working hand in hand with the Department for International Trade as we seek a deep and special partnership with the EU, and a bold and comprehensive trade agreement. The great repeal Bill will ensure a smooth and orderly exit from the EU. The laws and rules that we have now will, wherever practicable, continue to apply. The negotiations with the EU on the future relationship with Britain will be unlike any before, since both sides will start from the point of exact equivalence.
I thank the Minister for that comprehensive reply. When it comes to these key negotiations, is it his intention to recruit and embed outside talent and expertise from different sectors such as law, insurance and financial services to reinforce and bolster the Government’s own civil service teams? Has this outreach programme started?
I can assure my hon. Friend that we have been doing that outreach. Both my Department and the Department for International Trade have been bringing in expertise from across the civil service and from key areas of the private sector. The Under-Secretary of State for International Trade, my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier), tells me that his Department has already recruited more than 200 trade advisers.
I have asked Ministers six times in the last three months how the Government plan to extract us from the European economic area. Not once have I got a straight answer. Throwing away our membership of the single market with no plan for a vote in Parliament is the single largest act of economic self-harm and democratic nihilism that I can imagine. In which year does the Minister believe we should come out of the European economic area, and will the so-called “great” repeal Bill include the repeal of the European Economic Area Act 1993?
The Government’s position has been very clear: we are a member of the European economic area as a consequence of our European Union membership, and we respect the position of European leaders that the four freedoms underpinning the European Union are inseparable. We are leaving the European Union, but we will seek to form a deep and comprehensive free trade agreement between the UK and the EU.
Order. The right hon. Gentleman is a very fine man, but his name is not Sir Edward Leigh. [Interruption.] Be patient—we will hear from the fellow shortly. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman, who is a person of immense distinction, knows his own name—he just did not hear me.
We are of one mind anyway—it does not really matter very much.
In the interests of good government, will the Minister instruct the permanent secretary to ensure that there are worthwhile discussions with a possible future Government on how we square the circle of staying in the single market but controlling immigration and of being inside the customs union, or outside it—I do not know what they are going to do—and trying to make new trade agreements? I am sure that the permanent secretary is a very clever man and that he can do all this work.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his demonstration of the single transferable question and on the point he makes. The speech from the shadow Secretary of State has been widely picked up as setting out a confused position and one that is irresolvable, but I have no doubt that our permanent secretary is brilliant enough to be able to work his way through it.
Mr Speaker, it is nice to be here. The Government are committed to securing a deal that works for the entire United Kingdom, including all parts of England. The Department for Exiting the European Union and the Department for Communities and Local Government are working closely with the Local Government Association and regional partners across the country to understand clearly the issues related to exit and to identify any regional differences. As my hon. Friend will be aware, the Secretary of State has already committed to bringing the newly elected combined authority mayors in England together for a summit in the summer.
I thank the Minister for that answer. At departmental questions some weeks ago, the Secretary of State agreed to hold a meeting in York for the mayors of the north to make sure the region’s interests were properly represented. With Yorkshire’s devolution deals proving challenging to agree, will the Secretary of State agree also to invite the leaders of those areas not represented by a mayor?
The Government are committed to securing a deal that works for the whole United Kingdom, including every part of England. DExEU Ministers have visited Yorkshire on a number of occasions, and that includes the Secretary of State’s visit in November. I am sure he will be willing to consider another visit after the election.
The north-east has benefited hugely from investment and funding from the European Union—a counterbalance to the neglect of this and other Tory Governments. What guarantee will the Minister offer that the repatriation of powers from the European Union will not mean further concentration of powers in Whitehall and that powers will be devolved to the north-east and other regions?
After the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, we will give full consideration to further devolution to bring powers as close as possible to all parts of the country. We are committed to securing a deal that works for the north-east, and Ministers have visited every part of England, and that includes a recent visit to Sunderland and Peterlee to talk to local people about manufacturing issues.
On his visits around the regions of the UK, will the Minister make it clear that to deliver the Prime Minister’s commitment to take back control of our money, our laws and our borders, we must leave the single market, leave the customs union and establish sovereign control of our borders and all the maritime waters within the exclusive economic zone?
Visiting the north-east is always a good thing to do, and we are very happy to have the Minister, but he does need to listen while he is there. The Engineering Employers Federation has warned that walking away with no deal would condemn north-east manufacturing to
“a painful and costly Brexit.”
The EEF wants the Government, instead of posturing, to focus on obtaining full World Trade Organisation membership, a clear position on customs and a sensible transition period. Why are the Government not listening to the needs of manufacturers in the north?
On the contrary, we deal regularly with manufacturing industry. Indeed, I recently had a meeting with the EEF that was very successful. The fact of the matter is that we are intending to seek the best possible free trade agreement with the continuing European Union. Our position will be, however, unlike that of Labour, that no deal is better than a bad deal. I find it extraordinary that the Opposition seem to think it sensible to go to the negotiating chamber expecting to have no deal.
We have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues, including my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General. We fully respect the Sewel convention and have been working closely with the devolved Administrations, particularly through the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations.
Before asking my last question in this House, may I thank you, Mr Speaker, your staff, and the outstanding House staff across all areas, and wish colleagues right across the House every success in the coming months?
Can the Minister confirm whether the great repeal Bill will require legislative consent from the devolved Assemblies—yes or no?
Similarly, Mr Speaker, may I express my best wishes to the hon. Lady for the future?
The question of whether a legislative consent motion will be required for the great repeal Bill will of course depend on the form and content of the great repeal Bill, which will be published in the next Parliament.
Has my right hon. Friend received a report on the Scottish Affairs Committee’s visit to Brussels on Monday and Tuesday this week? If so, does he share my delight that it was made absolutely clear throughout those discussions that the European Union is interested only in negotiating with the United Kingdom Government and not with the Scottish Government?
Yes, I did note that. The position is quite clear—it is member states that negotiate with the European Union. Given that this country voted as a single country to leave the European Union, we should be expecting the support of the Scottish National party and not what it is doing at the moment.
Many have criticised the Government’s plans to make minor and technical changes to legislation using so-called Henry VIII powers, but this is in fact no more than plans to use delegated legislation. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the use of delegated legislation is actually an established part of the legislative procedures used in this House?
Welsh Sheep Meat Trade
The Government are working hard to get the very best deal for the United Kingdom—a free trade deal with the EU that is more ambitious than any other trade deal yet struck. We are considering and analysing the impact of future trading arrangements on all sectors of our economy, including agriculture, developing policies to support our vision for a global Britain that is producing more, selling more and exporting more.
That answer was characteristically vacuous and meaningless: could the Minister try to concentrate? Welsh farmers are saying that the door is open to New Zealand competition that could clear Welsh lamb off the shelves because of the price, and the door is not open to new markets in the United States, although that was promised. The Minister will understand the cultural priority of maintaining life on Welsh farms, where one of the most ancient languages in the whole of Europe prospers at its purest and best. Is it not a major priority for the Government to give a guarantee to Welsh farmers?
May I say that I represent many more Welsh farmers than the hon. Gentleman does, and that I intend to continue to do so after the general election? The Government are intent on securing the best possible free trade agreement for this country, which will benefit all farmers, including Welsh farmers. Furthermore, we intend to ensure that Welsh exports continue after the general election.
I do, Mr Speaker; thank you. Welsh sheep are an important part of the farming sector in Wales, but the farming community as a whole, throughout the UK, is looking for reassurance that it will be supported as we leave the European Union. I have a very large agricultural sector in Sleaford and North Hykeham, and I would be grateful for the Secretary of State’s reassurance that the farming sector will be protected as we leave the European Union.
My hon. Friend is entirely right. The agricultural sector is of particular importance in the forthcoming negotiations. We have already increased the number of exports from the British farming sector. We are currently in the process, for example, of negotiations to open the market for UK lamb to Saudi Arabia. There are a host of other opportunities out there, which will be available to us once we have left the European Union.
I call Tom Pursglove on question 15. [Interruption.] Aah, excellent! I was rather hoping that the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) would beetle into the Chamber just in time. In fact, I was prolonging the previous exchange in the confident expectation that he would arrive. He has done so, so we will reinstate question 13.
Engagement with industry is a central element of our plan to build a national consensus around our negotiating position. The Department has been listening and talking to aerospace manufacturers and industry groups across the UK and internationally, including Rolls-Royce, Airbus, ADS and the aerospace growth partnership.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for your forbearance, if nothing else. [Interruption.] And for much more. Does my right hon. Friend the Minister welcome Boeing’s investment in the new hangar maintenance facility at Gatwick airport as proof of the expanding aviation sector, even post Brexit?
I am grateful to the Minister for mentioning Airbus, which has a very large component at RAF Brize Norton in my constituency. Will the Minister please tell me what discussions he has had with such companies to reassure them that in a post-Brexit Britain, not only will their supply chains be secure, but they will be well placed to make the most of a global, outward-facing Britain?
I have had several discussions with various aerospace companies, including Airbus, which I met in Bristol recently. We do understand that supply chains across Europe are heavily integrated, but there is a clear mutual interest in agreeing trading arrangements. The British aerospace industry is the most important in Europe, and there is a mutual interest in ensuring that the relationships persist beyond Brexit.
Trade and Customs Agreement
I think it is me again, Sir. This question was due to be linked with Question 10. The ministerial team have frequent discussions with colleagues across Departments, including the Department for International Trade, on our future relationship with the European Union. One of the Government’s key objectives in the negotiations is to secure a mutually beneficial customs agreement. We are also committed to pursuing a bold and ambitious free trade agreement of greater scope and ambition than any such agreement before it.
The Minister of State, as a near constituency neighbour, will know that car manufacturing is a vital part of the Shropshire economy. Will he give an undertaking to my constituents today that he will ensure that any free trade agreement will protect car manufacturing not only in Shropshire, but throughout the west midlands and the United Kingdom?
A free trade agreement would clearly be of huge benefit not only to Land Rover in Shropshire, but to many other motor manufacturers around the country. As I have said, we are seeking an ambitious free trade agreement that will provide a host of opportunities right across the world for our manufacturers.
The Minister will know that paragraph 19 of the European Council’s draft guidelines for the negotiations on the future EU-UK relationship makes it clear that there must be
“a level playing field in terms of competition”,
with the same social and environmental standards. Does the Minister agree with that principle, and is he therefore be happy to see it embedded in the agreement?
Although my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) and I are of one mind, we have two questions—and only one knighthood.
The Government are right to seek a continuing free trade agreement with the European Union: it will be in the interests of the European Union as well as in ours, and it will be the first, best outcome. However, Ministers cannot admit what I think is quite likely, which is that politics may trump economics and that there may be no deal. Will they therefore confirm that in those circumstances we will go to a good, second-best outcome, which is trading on most favoured nation terms, as do the European Union’s most successful partners—the USA, China, Japan and Russia? It would mean an average tariff of 4%, which is relatively small beer compared with a 15% improvement in competitiveness because of the exchange rate, while saving £10 billion a year, which is equivalent to a 7% tariff on our exports.
Let me say quite clearly that the Government’s ambition and intention are to achieve the best possible free trade agreement with our EU partners. However, our position is also that we expect to negotiate toughly and—unlike Labour’s, our position will be made clear to the European Union—that we are prepared to walk away from the negotiating table if it is not possible to achieve a deal that suits us.
When the Secretary of State gave evidence to the Exiting the European Union Committee, he told me that the Government had not undertaken any economic assessment of the impact of Brexit since he had been in his post. Will the Minister update the House on whether there has been any progress, and when it comes to publishing the Government’s final deal, will he ensure that it includes an economic assessment of the impact of that deal and an economic assessment of the impact of no deal, so that my constituents and the country can make up their minds themselves about whether no deal is indeed better than a bad deal?
The Department has carried out an in-depth assessment right across 50 sectors of the economy. We have made it clear, however, that it is not in the national interest for us to produce a running commentary on the way in which we are developing our negotiating position, and that will remain the case.
Support for Farmers
It is me again, Mr Speaker. We are working closely with colleagues across Government to assess the impacts that withdrawal from the EU will have across a number of sectors in cross-cutting areas. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is considering the best possible options for a future agricultural land use policy that specifically benefits British farming, the countryside and the environment.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for the last-day-of-term test earlier.
I am very grateful to the Minister for his answer. The UK’s exit from the European Union clearly provides many new and exciting opportunities for our farmers, but in order to get the policy right, what work is going on alongside the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to engage fully with our farmers and the sector more generally? Of course, Ministers would be very welcome at any time to come and engage with my farmers in Corby and east Northamptonshire.
We are presented with an unprecedented opportunity to redesign agricultural policies to suit the British agricultural industry. We are, indeed, meeting a number of interested parties and stakeholders from the agricultural sector. I have had meetings with all the British farming unions, the National Pig Association, the Country Land and Business Association and the International Meat Trade Association, to name but a few.
Scottish Food and Drink Sector
We are working closely with colleagues across Government to assess the impacts that withdrawal from the EU will have across a number of sectors in cross-cutting areas. I have had meetings with a number of stakeholders from the Scottish food and drink sector, including NFU Scotland, the Scotch Whisky Association, the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation and the Food and Drink Federation.
I am grateful for that answer. The Stirling constituency boasts many world-class food and drink companies, such as the Glengoyne and Deanston distilleries and Graham’s the Family Dairy. What assurances can the Minister give me, if any, that during the Brexit negotiations, access to the important EU market for those excellent companies will be maintained and protected?
Certainly, as I have said already, we are seeking a free trade agreement that would continue to secure such access. The Scotch Whisky Association has said that there are enormous opportunities for the sector if the UK can secure favourable bilateral trade deals across other export markets. India, for example, is a growing market for Scotch whisky, but we are being held back by a 150% tariff. The hon. Gentleman should look for the opportunities of Brexit, not be a wet blanket.
Since the SNP Government came to office in 2007, the value of Scottish food exports has more than doubled, with businesses in my constituency enjoying excellent levels of growth. What impact assessment has the Department carried out on the impact of Brexit on such excellent growth, or is there simply a fingers-crossed approach? This morning at 9.21, I received a response from the Scotland Office to a question I posed to the Secretary of State for Scotland, and we now know that the Scotland Office has not made any assessment of the impact of Brexit on Scottish trade.
I am surprised to hear that. As I said a moment ago, the Scotch Whisky Association itself has identified enormous opportunities from Brexit. When the hon. Lady goes back to her constituency to do a bit of campaigning, perhaps she might go to her nearest distillery and ask people there what they think.
The Government have provided assurances to EU students in the UK. I particularly welcome the announcement on 21 April, which confirmed that EU students applying to study at English universities in 2018-19 will remain eligible for undergraduate, masters, postgraduate and advanced learner financial support, even if the course concludes after the UK’s exit from the EU. The Government want to create an environment in which the UK remains a world leader in research and academia, and continues to be home to the best universities in the world.
I echo those sentiments about international students and commend my hon. Friend for all his work on that campaign. I am very proud to have the award-winning Huddersfield University in our town. I visited its institute of railway research a couple of weeks ago. Thanks to the local enterprise partnership business growth fund, it is working on innovative rail and tram projects around the world, including in Australia. Will the Minister and his team make sure that our world-class universities are at the heart of the opportunities that Brexit brings?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to champion our world-class universities. Along with my hon. Friend the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, I have been meeting regularly with his higher education and innovation council, which represents the views of the university sector to us. It is very clear that UK collaborative research, both with European partners and more widely in the world, is a huge opportunity through this process.
I thank my hon. Friend for his recent Westminster Hall debate, when this issue was discussed. As he pointed out, a Conservative Government successfully secured the rebate in 1984, which was then introduced in 1985. Compiling an aggregate figure in real terms is a complex matter. The Government have not published such a figure, but I know that he has and estimated it to be well over £100 billion. Details of the most recent UK rebates are published in the document entitled “European Union Finances”. The latest edition was published in February and reported that the UK received a rebate of £3.9 billion from the EU in 2016.
The massive £117 billion total rebate since Margaret Thatcher negotiated it in 1984 is testament to her resolution and determination in getting the best deal for Britain and refusing to take no for an answer. Will my hon. Friend agree to emulate her negotiating style and swing the metaphorical handbag until we get the deal Britain needs?
I assure my hon. Friend that, as befits the tough reputation of both our Secretary of State and the Prime Minister, we will be robust in defending the UK’s national interest throughout this negotiating process. As the Prime Minister set out in her Lancaster House speech on 17 January, the days of Britain making vast contributions to the European Union every year will end. A strong, stable Government led by our right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) will be best placed to secure the best deal for the British taxpayer. Just as our first lady Prime Minister secured the rebate and value for the British taxpayer, I am sure our second will fight Britain’s corner throughout the negotiations.
Before I answer, may I start by thanking you, Mr Speaker, for your forbearance in these Question Times, and for everything else you have done for this House in the past several years?
We have a clear plan for Britain, one that fosters a deep and special new partnership with the European Union, and serves the interests of all parts of the United Kingdom. We want that new partnership to be underpinned by a comprehensive free trade agreement that gives UK companies maximum access to European markets, and European companies the same access to UK markets. Membership of the single market involves maintaining all four freedoms, including free movement of people, which is therefore inconsistent with our desire to take back control of our borders. Britain is leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe. It is in both our interests to see the European Union succeed socially, politically and economically. That will be our policy in the coming years.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that as part of that plan the Government are committed to the putting the rights of EU citizens into British law via the great repeal Bill, and that nothing will affect those rights unless it has the consent of this House?
My hon. Friend is right. One thing that I think people have missed and he has picked up on is that any change in those rights would require primary legislation in this House. In addition, our plan is to put through the great repeal Bill and have subsequent consequential primary legislation that will underpin those rights. I have made those points to many of my opposite numbers, the interlocutors for other member states, and said that this will be taken at the same time as protection of British rights abroad. They have all understood and welcomed that. I am very confident that we can get a deal that will protect all of the, I think, 4 million in very short order.
Let me pick up on that theme. As the Secretary of State knows, about 3 million EU nationals are very anxious about their status when we leave the EU. Labour would unilaterally guarantee their status from day one. Under this Government, all they can do is apply for consideration for permanent residency, but as the Brexit Select Committee warned in March:
“The current process for consideration of permanent residency applications is not fit for purpose”.
The Secretary of State knows how important this is. Have things improved?
I respect the hon. and learned Gentleman’s concern in this area. Let me be clear about that. However, I would say to him that the system there now is not designed to deal with 3 million. That has been made plain. In fact, if he goes on the Home Office website, he will see that it says not to make an application now—there is no need to. When we move the primary legislation it will be a matter for the Home Office, but I believe it will be very simple when it comes to that point.
What that is about is a reflection of what is on the Home Office website, which essentially points out that EU citizens do not need to apply for their rights to be underpinned. That is the approach we are taking. The hon. and learned Gentleman should bear in mind that for the next two years, irrespective of anything that the Government do, all the existing rights and privileges continue to apply. There will be no change in that respect. Before we come to the point of exit from the European Union, we will have made that very clear in primary legislation.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question; indeed, leaving aside the north Wales coastline, hers is one of the most beautiful in the UK. Coastal communities contribute an important part of our economy. They are part of the study that we have been undertaking, and we intend to make sure that their interests are reflected post-Brexit.
If the hon. Gentleman wants an answer to that, the first place he should start is on the streets of Britain, where he will find massive support for our Prime Minister, massive respect for our Prime Minister and a belief that she will deliver the best outcome in the Brexit negotiations.
We fully understand the importance of these issues to SMEs, including those in my hon. Friend’s constituency. Let me repeat for the umpteenth time in this Question Time that we are pursuing a bold and ambitious free trade agreement, which will benefit firms such as those and others around the country.
Thousands of my constituents work in Edinburgh’s financial sector, which is the second largest in the UK. Following the EU 27’s announcement this week that they intend to exclude the financial services sector from any future trade deal with the UK after Brexit, will the Minister tell me what contingency planning he is carrying out to protect my constituents’ jobs?
I would say to the hon. and learned Lady, as I said in answer to an earlier question, that we seek a comprehensive trade deal, which absolutely would include financial services. However, as I said previously, we have engaged with the Edinburgh financial services sector, which has been clear with us that access to European Union markets is enormously important, but even more important is its access to the United Kingdom as a whole and Scotland’s relationship with the rest of the United Kingdom.
The first thing I will say is that Mid Sussex is in good hands. My right hon. Friend is right: the balance that any Government strike when they control their own immigration policy and borders—which is something that he has fought for down the years—not only provides proper security and proper policy, in terms of the delivery of social services and housing, but at the same time allows our businesses, universities, research centres and financial centres to take part in the battle for talent that makes our country one of the greatest in the world.
May I thank you, Mr Speaker, for putting up with me so tolerantly for a long time? I warn you, however, that I will make every effort to come back and be troublesome in future. May I also surprise you by asking a topical question? People such as me were remainers. We accept the will of the British people, but we are darn sure that we want a great deal for this country and we are very worried that this election will get in the way. Has the Secretary of State seen this morning’s reports that the pharmaceutical industry is going to move out of Britain for two reasons? The first is Brexit and the second is the fact that we have not put sufficient resources into our national health service.
Before I answer the hon. Gentleman’s question, may I say that he is the one person who has got me a rebuke from Mr Speaker in the past? I look forward to him coming back and continuing that tradition. Pharmaceutical industries have relocated here and companies such as GlaxoSmithKline have increased their expenditure here. As for the other aspect of that attempt by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, it seemed to me to be putting pressure on the spending of the national health service. That is an issue for the Health Secretary, who will make sensible decisions in the national interest, and not in that of an individual industry.
May I say that Pendle has a strong voice going into the general election? Aerospace is a key industry for this country, which is why, as I said earlier, we have paid so much close attention to it. We will make sure that we continue to have the most important aerospace industry in Europe.
Far from there being an extra £350 million a week to spend on the NHS following Brexit, we are likely to face an NHS staffing crisis and slower access to cancer drugs and treatments because of the loss of the European Medicines Agency. Is the Secretary of State going to put that sign on a bus in the next few weeks?
I will answer the question when the heckling stops. Clearly, the hon. Gentleman is getting ready for the hustings in his constituency—they may be the last he takes part in. I am not going to revisit the arguments of the past. I am going to work on delivering the best outcome for the future.
Order. As this is the last day and, other than points of order, we will be suspending, my instinct is to hear colleagues who want to ask questions, but I hope that they will not expect to be heard without limit. Therefore, if colleagues now want briefly to put their questions to the esteemed Secretary of State and his colleagues, I am open to that. I call Suella Fernandes, who will speak with great brevity, I am sure.
Does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State agree that financial services in London, Edinburgh and throughout the country will be able to benefit from principles of equivalence and mutual recognition as an alternative to passporting, to ensure that that sector remains open and thriving, as stated recently by Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England?
The Secretary of State is a wise man, and we all read his wise article in The Irish Times on 5 September last year, in which he said that Ireland did not have to choose between Europe and the United Kingdom but could commit itself to expanded trade and commerce with both. Ireland is a big market for England, but it is not the biggest. Given the Secretary of State’s wise words in Ireland, what patience has he with those who suggest that England would want trade barriers with its largest market in Europe, and, with exports worth £50 billion, its second largest export market in the world—Scotland?
Before I answer the right hon. Gentleman’s question, let me say this to him. He is an old friend of mine, and, politics notwithstanding, I wish him well. As for the answer to his question, I do not want to see any trade barriers within the United Kingdom, which, of course, is why I support the Union.
While all of us in this place want a good negotiated settlement, it is vital to some, not least those in the agricultural sector, which stands to lose significantly if there is no deal. Will my right hon. Friend continue to reassure us that despite the necessary shorthand of our approach to the negotiations, the need for the agricultural sector to be secure is uppermost in his mind, and that the sector will not be disadvantaged either by no deal or by the terms of trade in new arrangements with other countries?
My right hon. Friend is right to suggest that the agricultural sector is the most sensitive to the issue of tariffs, and indeed to the issue of customs, because of the nature of the product, which, for instance, is often biodegradable. However, that is also true the other way round. We are an enormous market for France, Bavaria and many other agricultural areas in Europe. We have at dead centre the aim of securing frictionless trade in that sector in the future, and we are confident that it is in the interests of the whole European Union, not just us.
Will the Secretary of State tell us why we are going into this premature election? Those of us who voted to remain in the EU have fully accepted the decision that was made, and voted for the triggering of article 50, as did those in the other House; so that is not the reason. Will the Secretary of State confess today that the real reason we are having this election is the Government’s wish to escape from the promise that they made two years ago—a five-year promise—not to raise taxes, and to respect the triple lock? Is it not true that what lies ahead on the economic front is a great sinkhole into which our economy will fall in a tailspin?
I note the attention paid to your call for short questions, Mr Speaker, but I will give the hon. Gentleman’s question a short answer. Throughout this process the Labour party has maintained its interesting schizophrenia, first saying, “We respect the outcome of the referendum”, and then, at every turn, trying to thwart it. Labour Members say, “You have a mandate to leave, but not on those terms.” Well, when the election is over, we will have a mandate on those terms.
Will the Secretary of State consider holding a west midlands Brexit summit with the new mayor of the west midlands—who we hope will be Andy Street—and with key regional businesses, so that we can ensure that the interests of the west midlands are considered in the Brexit negotiations and that Brexit delivers for the west midlands as well as for the rest of the country?
London is the pre-eminent economic force in the country. What assistance and co-operation has my right hon. Friend received from the Mayor of London and, indeed, local authorities in London, to ensure that we have a smooth, clean Brexit that benefits the capital and the country as a whole?
My hon. Friend is dead right. The financial sector in London is, of course, the largest, but it is not the only one that is important. We should not forget that Scotland has a major financial sector. All the Ministers in my Department, the relevant Ministers in the Treasury, and, when appropriate, the relevant Ministers in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy have been in constant communication with the whole sector, with all the representative groups in the sector and, indeed, with a large number of companies in the sector.
To give him his due, I have also received representations from Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, and have had very useful conversations with him. He has had the grace to recognise that we in the Government also have the best interests of London at heart.
My constituents in Bromley and Chislehurst welcome the emphasis given to financial services, our largest employer. Does the Secretary of State also recognise that financial services are important to the Crown dependencies, which require protocol 3 access, which will be lost upon our leaving the EU, and also to the British overseas territory of Gibraltar? Will he make sure that those two key areas also get the full benefit of our ambitious free trade deal?
The hon. Gentleman will know that the Government have guaranteed structural fund payments to 2020. He must also understand that responsibility for delivering infrastructure in Wales lies with the Welsh Assembly Government, so no doubt he will be speaking to his colleagues as soon as Parliament has risen.
I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker. I had earlier wished to ask about the pig industry, a very important industry across East Anglia. Can the Minister tell us what prospects he sees for the industry? It is an industry that does not have subsidy from the public purse, but which has made huge gains, particularly in China where the pigs’ ear deal added £5 per carcass? What prospects does he see for this important sector?
Given my hon. Friend’s surname, I am sure that he will be declaring his interest. I assure him that the Government fully understand the importance of pigmeat to the economy of this country. I have had a meeting with the National Pig Association, and I am glad to say that it is very positive about the future.
In an earlier question reference was made to the English regions, which are of course an EU construction. They divide great counties such as Lincolnshire between the east midlands and Yorkshire and the Humber. Is it too much to expect a future Government to scrap these regions when we regain our independence, or at the very least ensure that Lincolnshire is in one of them?
Taking into account the state of devolution, how will Northern Ireland be represented in the preparations for the United Kingdom to leave the EU, and, specifically, how will the Minister be able to meet the intricate needs of Northern Ireland at this time?
We continue to urge all parties to come together so that the devolved Assembly can be restored and we can engage with all parties and communities in Northern Ireland to ensure that their views are represented throughout this period. Earlier this week I attended the British Irish Chamber of Commerce, where there was huge interest in maintaining strong and positive relations between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and the UK.
Three years ago, David Cameron and I launched my first election campaign, at British Sugar in Newark. Three years—and approaching three elections—later, the sugar industry continues to employ hundreds of my constituents in Nottinghamshire, keeping the fields of the county full of rich beet crop. Furthermore, the sugar industry is intensely optimistic about the prospects for Brexit. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has acquired a reputation as something of a bruiser over the years, but with his 13 years of experience at Tate & Lyle, will he retain his sweet tooth as he approaches the negotiations?
I must admit that I am standing here wondering whether I should declare an interest, on behalf of my pension fund if nothing else. Of course we will fight for the interests of the sugar industry as much as we do for everything else, and we will be successful.
Energy is the largest sector in my constituency. We have wind farms, nuclear power and gas. We even have a tunnel under the bay to carry electrical cables from one end of Cumbria down into Lancashire. EDF Energy is the largest employer in the constituency, and it is continually reinvesting and has plans to expand. Do my right hon. and hon. Friends agree that this is a sign of things to come?
We have had a number of meetings with the energy industry, including EDF Energy. I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend to discuss this further, because ensuring that we continue to have the energy to power the British economy in the years ahead will be a vital part of our considerations.
Clearly it is part of our negotiating aims to have free and frictionless travel as well as trade. Obviously there will be more control of our borders in the future, but it will not be designed to inconvenience people. It will be control designed to deliver the national interest and to keep this a free and open country that welcomes people from all over the world in the way we have done for centuries and will do for centuries to come. Was that the last question, Mr Speaker?
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Have you had any notification of a statement from the Minister at the Cabinet Office—or, indeed, the Prime Minister herself—on the Channel 4 report of last evening, which suggested that the Crown Prosecution Service has to report on 30 individuals for possible prosecution between 20 May and the early part of June? Given that many of them are Members of this House, we must consider the implications that that could have for the reporting and coverage of any such decision and the position of the candidates during an election campaign. It would be a scandal of enormous proportions if any attempt had been made to influence the timing of any such reports. Has any provision been made for coping with such an eventuality if it occurs during an election campaign? The Prime Minister has decided to reappoint all of the campaign team responsible for this boorach, who have already been fined by the Electoral Commission, but that campaign team—up to and including Lynton Crosby—having successfully bought one election, must not be allowed to buy another.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order. My response is as follows: the rules governing the conduct of elections are not a matter for the Chair. I hope that the House will understand that, although I have given the right hon. Gentleman a full opportunity to register his concerns, I have no intention of being drawn into this matter. That would be quite improper. What the police and the Crown Prosecution Service do, and when, is a matter for them. Members with views on these matters can, and doubtless will, express them. I will express no view on the matter.
I raised this matter with the Prime Minister a week ago yesterday—this is a matter for you really, Mr Speaker—and did not get an answer from her. I was then fortunate enough to be called by you to raise the matter again with the Secretary of State for Justice and, once more, I did not receive a reply from the Government. What has now emerged is that you, in the Chair, are saying, “It is not a matter for me.” The Prime Minister did not respond to my accusation that the election should not have been called. She did not get a revelation on the Welsh hills; she called a snap election to try to beat the Crown Prosecution Service. That is what this election is all about, and that is why it is a point of order for you, Sir.